The USPS Funding Crisis is About to Affect Deathcare. Here’s How You Can Take Action.
They may deliver despite rain, sleet, snow, or dark of night, but without funding, the U.S. Postal Service grinds to a halt. Heavy debt, powerful competitors, and costly pensions are threatening the operations of the 245-year-old stalwart. Resolving the USPS issues will involve extreme cost-cutting measures, a massive government bailout, or both.
Recently the USPS woes have come into sharp focus in the political arena as headlines highlight concerns about the service’s ability to process mail-in ballots for the upcoming election. Political pressures seem to have forced the postmaster general to hold off on making any changes to USPS services until after the election. However, this situation has forced many of us to consider for the first time what life without the USPS might look like.
Deathcare relies on Priority Express
In a worst-case funding scenario, some of the first cuts in the USPS system will include special services like Priority Express mail. This possibility should send cold chills down the spines of death care professionals. Currently, USPS Priority Express is the ONLY delivery service that will ship human cremated remains.
The inherent risks of delivering cremains keep other shipping giants like FedEx and UPS from offering the service. Unfortunately, deathcare attorney Poul Lemasters is quite familiar with these potential problems.
“I handle a steady stream of cremated remains-related issues,” Lemasters says, “from delivering to the wrong place, getting lost, or arriving damaged.”
Not only does the USPS accept these risks. It actually embraces this responsibility proudly, even providing free boxes and packing materials for all cremated remains shipments.
“If the USPS says they will no longer deliver cremated remains,” Lemasters adds, “the only option will be to create our own delivery system.”
This is really happening
Unfortunately, deathcare professionals can’t enjoy the postmaster’s temporary reprieve. The financial pressures on the USPS are already impacting Priority Express services.
An August 18 article published on Vox Recode cited current — and growing — delays.
“A postmaster in upstate New York recently told their union that the regular mail was two days behind,” the article reads. “And, for the first time in their career, Express Priority Mail was not going out on time.”
Suddenly, the prospect of families not receiving their loved one’s cremains in time for a memorial service — or not receiving them at all — is becoming all too real.
Protect yourself in the meantime
Lemasters has considered these consequences.
“In some states, when you ship something, you’re responsible until it gets to where it’s going,” he says. “In others, you’re responsible until you drop it off at whatever delivery method you’re using. A lot of states will just assume the former — that whatever happens between the time you drop off your package and when it arrives — or doesn’t arrive — is your responsibility.”
Lemasters has some recommendations for funeral homes, crematoria, and third-parties who rely on the USPS to deliver cremains in a timely manner.
“I would encourage every funeral home, crematorium, or third party who may be tasked with shipping cremated remains to do three things,” he says. “First, make sure you have proper disclosures that clearly indicate you’re only responsible for the package until you drop it off at the delivery center. Second, make sure the family knows you’re not responsible for and can’t guarantee any timelines or shipping dates. Lastly, create an internal checklist and document with photos every step of the cremains packaging process, including a picture of the completed package and the shipping label.”
A call to action for death care professionals
Barbara Kemmis, Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America is among those deathcare professionals issuing a call to action.
“The USPS is an essential service, now more than ever,” Kemmis says. “The House of Representatives is expected to reconvene to work on legislation to fully fund the USPS. The Senate may not take action, so this is an opportunity to call your senator. Your senator may know that seniors depend on the USPS for medications and small businesses for shipments, but they likely do not know about this vital service. This is our chance to speak up as essential workers requiring support for our essential work.”
Parting Stone, the company offering solidified remains, relies on USPS Priority Express service to receive cremated remains and ship solidified remains back to funeral homes. Founder Justin Crowe has been in regular contact with the USPS. He’s monitoring the status of the organization and taking actions to encourage the ideal outcome for his company and for the funeral industry at large.
“So far we have seen no delays in shipping remains and our USPS representative has assured us that there will be no substantive change to services in the immediate future,” Crowe says. “Looking forward, we are being proactive about ensuring that our legislators know how crucial the United States Postal Service is to our industry. Internally, we have written letters to New Mexico State Senator, Tom Udall, and we are encouraging all funeral homes and crematories to do the same in their states.”
Take action now
Parting Stone has drafted a letter with the help of TheStand.org that you can download to follow Kemmis’ advice and reach out to your state’s senators. You may send this letter as-is or use it as inspiration when writing your own. Look up your state senators’ addresses here.
We urge you to take a moment to speak up on behalf of the entire death care profession and the families you serve. Please help us to ensure they will continue to be reunited with their loved ones.